All signs from Dallas point to rookie Ben DiNucci making his first NFL start against the Eagles on Sunday night as veteran Andy Dalton remains out of practice. His status will be updated officially on Saturday, but the Cowboys seem to be preparing DiNucci, who has taken all of the reps this week in practice, for his first start in 300 days when he quarterbacked James Madison in the FCS Championship Game loss against North Dakota State.
What do we really know about DiNucci? He's not particularly big at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds. He ran the read option very successfully in college, so he has some athletic ability. His arm is average, by NFL standards. DiNucci entered last Sunday's game against Washington in the second half and completed 2 of his 3 passes for 39 yards.
And now he's set to start what could be a must-win game for a desperate 2-5 Dallas team in prime time at Lincoln Financial Field.
"We definitely took a lot at some of those things (college tape) to see what we're gonna get," said linebacker T.J. Edwards, scheduled to return to action on Sunday night after missing three games with a hamstring injury suffered in the win over San Francisco. "He's a guy really comfortable in a zone read and things like that. He did that in college. I think we're really kind of expecting the full arsenal in this game, so we really have to be on our reads and on our cues at all times just because they're in the same boat as us – nothing to lose and we both want to win this game, so we're expecting just about everything from him."
The last quarterback to make his starting NFL debut against the Eagles? How about Brandon Weeden, who completed 12 of 35 passes with four interceptions and only 118 yards passing in the 2012 season-opening game. The Eagles won that game, 17-16. Michael Vick also threw four interceptions in that game and needed a touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor with 1:18 remaining to turn back the Browns.
The challenge remains the same against the Dallas offense – contain Ezekiel Elliott, who has a 5-1 record against Philadelphia and has averaged 149.8 yards from scrimmage against the Eagles, the most of any player in NFL history. Dallas gets back guard Zack Martin, a big help to an offensive line that has been ravaged by injury.
"It starts with Zeke," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "It always does."
As we get closer to Sunday night, here are some more facts and figures and thoughts to digest …
1. If it seems like the Eagles and Cowboys play every year on Sunday Night Football, you aren't far off. This is the 13th Sunday night meeting between the teams (Dallas leads the Sunday night series, 7-5) and the 12th straight season the teams will play on a Sunday prime time. Ratings, folks, ratings. This game draws viewership and, obviously, Cowboys-Eagles is one of the NFL's greatest rivalries.
2. Carson Wentz is only 3-4 against Dallas, but he sure has had individual success. Wentz has thrown 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions against Dallas, completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,713 yards. Wentz has been sacked 13 times and has six fumbles, losing three of them.
3. This could be a game where the turnover ratio tells a large part of the story. Well, it usually does, anyway. Dallas ranks 32nd and last in the NFL with a -13 turnover ratio, while the Eagles are 28th at -5. In each of their two wins, the Eagles have three takeaways. So, the defense has a clear understanding of its task in this game.
4. The roster shuffle continues for the Eagles, who placed defensive end Genard Avery and linebacker Nathan Gerry on the Injured Reserve list on Friday afternoon. Getting Edwards back at linebacker – he does need to be activated from Injured Reserve – along with the quality reps taken by Alex Singleton, mitigates the loss of Gerry. Avery had a big game against San Francisco and then played only 14 defensive snaps in Pittsburgh, seven against Baltimore, and zero last week in the win over New York. Vinny Curry's return, plus the fine play of Josh Sweat and the durability of Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett give the Eagles a strong four-man edge presence.
5. With running back Miles Sanders again sidelined, Boston Scott has taken the first-team reps in practice, so he's ready to go for Sunday night. "I think those first-team reps are invaluable," Scott said on Friday. "At the end of the day, there's a phrase that football is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. So, whenever you are in, or when Miles is up, you've got to make sure you are just as dialed in. You have to carry yourself in a way that you are getting those reps mentally. You're visualizing by watching what's happening so that whenever your number is called, you're ready to go out there and produce. That's what you're paid to do. You can't make any excuses when you're out there."